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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Southwest Florida voters to close the book on Trey Radel today with GOP primary



Voters in Southwest Florida today will effectively select a new representative in Congress, with the GOP primary in a seat left open amid the spectacular fall of Trey Radel.

Curt Clawson was not well known at the outset but today stands atop the field. He self-funded his campaign, blanketing the airwaves with ads casting himself as an outsider. He also seems to have outlasted scrutiny of his record as an automotive industry executive and a TV report about a sex offender that lived in one of Clawson's home, sold just before he entered the race.

As Clawson climbed in the polls, he drew attention from former Rep. Connie Mack, who held the seat before Radel, and Sen. Rand Paul. The Tea Party Express gave him another boost. The group on Monday was feeling bullish about Clawson's chances, proclaiming the race was the "first tea party vs. establishment showdown" of 2014.

The establishment candidate is state Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, who had the backing of Tallahassee and a solid resume. Sarah Palin gave her some outsider cred but it may not have been enough. Fortunately for Bencquisto, she did not have to resign her Senate seat to run for Congress and could still seek re-election. She already raised questions about ads that blurred the lines between which position she was seeking.

Other candidates include Michael Dreikorn and Paige Kreegel, who had the support of a Super PAC that helped turn the primary into a nasty fight. In one memorable episode, Kreegel called Clawson to tell him the Super PAC was about to launch a negative ad against him.

The winner today will head into a June 24 general election, but since Congressional District 19 is so heavily Republican, that may just be a formality.

[Last modified: Tuesday, April 22, 2014 1:17am]


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